I love Japan, but there are challenges to the society and the culture that must be spoken about. Just like Australia. Just like America. We can’t stay silent on what is uncomfortable, because otherwise those who are held back from achieving their goals because they are different will never get a chance.
There are so many positive elements of Japanese culture, tradition and society that I love. I could go on for days. Sometimes, however, Japan and its citizens get a little tripped up because there is so much pressure on what is referred to as the “front facing” persona – the personality you put out to the world.
Japanese society can be responsible for what seems like outlandish or shocking trends:
- Intense sex shops, sexualised trends (think buying worn underwear from vending machines) and porn
- Fetishes around school girls
- Hikikomori or people completely socially isolated
- Herbivore Men (I did my Honours Thesis on this topic if you’re interested!)
- And more.
At the same time, Japan is one of the most traditional, modest and conservative societies on the planet.
- Traditional views of marriage and relationships, both in policy and socially
- Women traditionally leaving the workforce after pregnancy and childbirth
- Entrenched traditions and cultures from Buddhism and Shintoism such as respect for the elderly, in-house shrines and of course the beautiful temples and shrines throughout streets and cities.
- And on and on and on it goes.
What goes on inside your own house has little to no impact on what happens when you go into the office on Monday morning, so long as you don’t bring it to the attention of others.
So what happens when your “inward facing” personality becomes your “outward facing” personality? Aya Kamikawa is a transgender woman. Depending on the type of Japan you are familiar with will change how you think this should impact her life and career.
In 2003 Aya Kamikawa became the first trans-woman to be elected to win an elected office in Japan. Aya’s success was largely due to her platform being directed at helping the elderly and repairing public spaces such as libraries. She stood outside train stations with a microphone and told people passing by that she was trans. She was bold, she was strong, she connected on a policy-platform that resonated with people and she won.
I find this nothing short of incredible. I am so privileged in my own hetero-normative and gender experience that I know nothing of the hardship that Aya surely endured before, during, and after that win at the election booths. In order for transgender people to transition in Japan, they are required to be labeled as having a mental disorder.
Japan has this funny way of being simultaneously accepting of variations of the norm whilst at the same time stopping those variations (i.e. human beings) from getting too far out of control. This happens , for example, by putting transgender women in the entertainment or comedy industries and not the political sphere. It even happens with citizens who have one parent from another country, as you are often to be seen as an “other” even if you are born in Japan and have lived there your whole life.
But through the persistence of Aya, another transgender person, Tomoya Hosada, has been able to be elected to City Council. Perhaps in the coming years those from the trans community will continue to break into these “serious” social roles and find themselves just an everyday part of Japanese society.
Thank you to the following sites: